Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A rendition of "We're Gonna Roll the Union On" fires up the troops

Brenda R. Scott, veteran activist and president of the Mississippi state employees union, got the state AFL-CIO's four-day annual legislative conference off to a rousing start Monday with a fiery rendition of the old labor song, We're Gonna Roll the Union On!

"I'm tired of the haves taking advantage of the have-nots!" Scott told the crowd at the Edison-Walthall hotel in downtown Jackson after the song. "We need to stand up and fight back!"

Scott, nearly as good a singer as she is a grassroots organizer, said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is trying to do away with job protection for veteran state workers by eliminating a clause requiring that "just cause" be proven before a firing. The governor is also trying to raise the cost of state employees' health premiums by 15 percent over each of the next four years.

"When you don't say anything, you are telling Haley Barbour to go ahead," she said. "My state workers are afraid."

A new militancy is needed, she said. Union leaders across the state need to stand up for their members and for all working people.

Scott said she hopes Barbour, frequently touted as a possible future Republican presidential candidate, does run for president so the rest of the nation sees what he's doing in Mississippi. Barbour, in Oxford today for a meeting with the press, declined to dismiss the possibility of a future run.

Scott, herself an unsuccessful candidate for Jackson mayor last year, organized 3,000 members for her union, CWA (Communications Workers of America) Local 3570. "Brenda has done this is a state where there are no collective bargaining laws for public workers and no legal right to have dues check-off for public workers," CWA District 3 Vice President Beverly Hicks said. "She has been successful over the years against all odds."

Another speaker urging unity and activism at Monday's opening day ceremonies for the conference was John W. Graves, president of IBEW Local 2164 and also of the Mississippi chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

"We all need to pull together," Graves said. "We all have the same common goal--the ACLU, the AFL, the APR. Think of it as a chain. The chain is no stronger than its weakest link. We've been fighting for a long time, but we don't have victory yet."

Yours truly also spoke at the conference, and I'll do something very unusual for me: quote myself! "You are at the forefront of a major movement for social justice," I told the crowd. "The enemy is formidable, just like it was in the 1920s, just before labor grew to its greatest strength.

"President Obama needs to realize--and I think he does--there's not going to be bipartisanship in Congress. Republicans only want his defeat and failure. So he needs to push ahead, use the rules of Congress to ram health care reform through on a simple majority, and punish those Democrats who aren't on board. He's the president. He has the power to do it. We need what the Germans call Realpolitik. We need militancy. And after he does it on health care, he needs to do the same on EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act)."

The real work is done after all the speeches, however. Let's hope Brenda Scott's fighting spirit proves contagious.

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